Friday, March 29, 2013

Penguins GM Ray Shero, the Ersatz Cold War Warrior

photo:  The Canadian Press, Jeff McIntosh
Yesterday, my phone beeped a few minutes before 7:00 a.m. Strange time to be getting texts. I grabbed my phone:  "HOLY HELL, WE GOT IGINLA." And with that, I was stupid happy all day long. I was silly, giddy, punch-drunk, I was like a dog going to the park or a kid on Christmas morning. Nothing phased me all day long.

To the old lady who took way, way too long to order her coffee in line in front of me, I simply smiled and thought, "Jarome Iginla, baby. It's cool."

To the wanker who cut me off in traffic, I simply waved and mouthed, "Dude, the Pens got Iginla!"

When the spot I wanted to eat lunch was closed, I just walked on to another destination, thinking, "Jarome Freaking Iginla."

That's how stupid happy I was. Perhaps this is foolish. Maybe this is fool's gold. Maybe all these new players -- Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow, Douglas Murray -- will upset the perfect team chemistry. After all, the Pens had been on an amazing run before Shero escalated the arms, but just as there are risks in upsetting the apple cart, there are also risks associated with standing pat. Clearly, the Penguins wanted to avoid the latter variety, mistakes of inaction rather than action.

If, like me, you lived through the 1970's and 1980's, you remember clearly the Cold War arms race (as well as ubiquitous leg warmers and the inexplicable popularity of Bob Seger. Seger? Go figure.) I was a kid then, just getting past that time in life when I still kinda believed in ghosts in the attic and bogey-men under the bed, but nothing made for a better adult bogey-man than the Soviet Union, complete with the terrifyingly cold-blooded KGB, Siberian gulags and an Iron Curtain draped across Eastern Europe. The specter of the great red threat loomed over everything. Children and adults were panicked by the notion that if we didn't build bigger, better and just MORE, the Soviets would bomb us into the stone age and any survivors would end up in those self-same gulags.

Either we got the best killing technology. Or they would. And if they did ... they win.

Welcome to 1980, played out in the Eastern Conference of the NHL wherein Penguins GM Ray Shero is doing his best Ronnie Reagan imitation. Only difference? I love Ray Shero.

After a flurry of activity in the last five days, the Pens are loaded for bear. Or should I say Bruin. (And Blackhawk. And Duck.)

First, Shero traded Morrow the Younger (a nice prospect) to the Dallas Stars and got Morrow the Elder in return. The Stars captain was apparently on Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli's wish list, but instead he wanted to come to Pittsburgh.

Ray Shero 1, Boston Bruins 0.

Then he installed a new Crankshaft in the Penguins defensive engine, getting behemoth Douglas Murray from the San Jose Sharks. Although it doesn't appear that the Crankshaft was on the Bruins register, I think that Murray is Shero's response to  Boston's monstrous captain, Zdeno Chara. Murray looks like a linebacker out on the ice and he doesn't have to hit guys so much as just stand there and let them bounce off him. It really is something to see.
photo:  Reuters, Jason Cohn

Ray Shero 2, Boston Bruins 0.

But he saved his best for last, nabbing the Calgary Flames captain in the wee small hours of the night. This after the announcers for the NBCSports broadcast of the Bruins v. Canadiens game tripped all over themselves to talk about Jarome Iginla coming to Boston and how that might be effecting the game in front of them. This, even after the Bruins jiggled their line-up to make room for Iginla. This, after TSN reported that Iginla was, in fact, headed to Beantown.

Um, change that flight for Mr. Iginla from Logan to Greater Pitt. Thanks.

Jarome Iginla -- Come On Dahn. (Yeah, we talk funny here. You'll get used to it.)

Ray Shero 3, Boston Bruins 0.

Is it really an arms race if one side is stockpiling all the arms?

What does it all mean?

It means that the rest of the league gets to enjoy the hysteria in Boston. Really. Listen to some Boston sports talk for a while. Peter Chiarelli is an incompetent boob. Jarome Iginla is the very worst human being to roam the earth since Genghis Kahn. And suddenly Pittsburgh -- little, tiny, parochial, unassuming Pittsburgh -- is the New York Yankmes. It's all very entertaining.

Most importantly, it means that coach Dan Bylsma is going to have to be creative, wise and judicious with his line pairings. 

The Pens first line, with Kunitz, Sid and Dupuis is by far the best line in hockey. You can't mess with that. Can you? Can you?! While we're here, can somebody give that line a nickname? C'mon, people. Get creative.

I expect Iginla will find his regular home on the second line, which means he'll play with Geno and James Neal. That line has been in desperate need of a third winger all season and Bylsma has put everybody out there, including Matt Cooke at one point. Iginla would be the perfect fit. He's a guy who will cycle the puck, plant himself at the goal crease and fight along the boards. Sure, he's a scorer paired with two other scorers, but he's a different breed of scorer. To Malkin's artiste and Neal's sniper, add Iginla's dirty goals around the crease. (Notice I didn't say blue collar.)

I suspect that Brendan Morrow will move to the third line with Brandon Sutter and, if I'm making the lines, Matt Cooke. It makes the third line a really pesky checking line and also one that can score from time to time.

The fourth line is anybody's guess. So here's my guess. Craig Adams will suit up every game because he is so valuable on the penalty kill. [Seriously, watch him on the PK. It's a thing of beauty.] I think they want to keep Tyler Kennedy on the ice, so he gets the other wing, opposite Adams. Joe Vitale is the best center you have for this line and he has shown some nice scoring instincts of late. Which means that Tanner Glass is the odd man out here. 

Lastly, it sends a signal to the league, the players and the fans that Ray Shero and Mario Lemieux are not ready to turn the page (sorry, shameless Seger reference). They want to win another Stanley Cup. Right fucking now.

Sign says:  CUP OR BUST.

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